Early-opening schools pass on pandemic lessons
Adrian kindergartener Rylen Wynn sports a kitten mask for her first day of in-person classes on Aug. 25. School leaders say students are showing off an interesting array of face coverings. (Photo by Jake Arnold, OSBA)
As schools across Oregon reopen, districts that started in August have already learned some lessons about distance learning and in-person classes.
“Communication is key,” said Adrian School District Superintendent Kevin Purnell. “Lots of phone calls.”
Fires raging across western Oregon have delayed some school openings, pushing starts into next week. Schools already open have hit some bumps but in general are finding things running smoother than expected.
The Adrian School District in far eastern Oregon launched Aug. 25 with comprehensive distance learning, but it is letting K-1 and high school students come to school for limited in-person instruction.
Teachers and staff are checking with families to arrange meals and transportation and to make sure students are accessing their classes.
Purnell said that in addition to lessons from the spring, the district is trying new approaches to distance learning.
“We’re getting better, but we’re finding out where the gaps are in the teachers’ and students’ understanding of the technology,” Purnell said.
Teachers discovered that with curriculum programs, they don’t see the same screens students do so they have created dummy accounts so they can see the student view.
Purnell said teachers have not had online classroom management problems and the students in school are following the rules, even the littlest children.
“We aren’t scaring the kids,” he said. “We’re just reminding them of the situation of what we are trying to do.”
Union School District Superintendent Carter Wells said having a positive person to help children remember to wash their hands, keep their masks on and follow distance guidelines is essential.
Union, east of La Grande, opened Aug. 31 with in-person classes for all students. In K-6, students are in classroom cohorts, and the teachers move from class to class. In 7-12, the district has shifted to alternating four-period days.
“It’s not what we left in March, but we can have kids on-site,” Wells said.
Wells strongly recommended school staff walk through the Oregon Department of Education’s “Planning for COVID-19 Scenarios” pamphlet.
The Echo School District west of Pendleton opened Aug. 31 with comprehensive distance learning.
Superintendent Raymon Smith said one of the first things that became obvious is how much students need in-person help. He said students were showing up at teachers’ houses with masks on, knocking on windows and holding up computers for help.
The district established a team of teachers to go out every afternoon to help students connect and access lessons, although Smith said there have been fewer technology problems than they expected.
Smith said he has learned district staff have to be more mobile to help students because often the students and families can’t come to school. District bus drivers deliver meals to students’ homes, allowing them to pick up and drop off school materials as well.
The Vale School District west of Ontario also opened Aug. 31 with comprehensive distance learning.
Superintendent Alisha McBride said the district held seven days of in-service before school started, four more than is typical. The extra time allowed teachers to meet with students outdoors with social distancing. She said nearly every family attended a meeting.
“It shows the commitment by our families in their child’s learning,” McBride said.
The district is intentionally waiting two weeks before making any significant instructional changes so teachers can focus on distance learning techniques before adding anything new, she said.
Teachers are already asking for professional development related to making online lessons more engaging.
The Crane elementary and high schools in Harney County opened Aug. 26 with in-person learning and online lessons available for all students.
Ten high school students and 11 elementary students opted for online learning because they didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t want to wear a mask, Superintendent Matthew Hawley said.
The first day of class, most students showed up with face masks but by the end of the day most students had asked for face shields provided by the school, Hawley said.
Students and teachers prefer the shields because they can see expressions, but the shields only last about four days before they are too scratched or dented for use, according to Hawley. At roughly $4 each, the district is looking at ways to extend the shields’ life, such as adding hooks to desks so students can leave their shields at school so they don’t get battered in backpacks and cars.
“It’s amazing the things you learn as you go through this process,” he said.
For instance, the district went from three lunch periods to five lunch periods but they were having trouble getting the youngest children through the line in a timely manner. Now trays are filled and left on tables for K-1 students.
District staff also realized they couldn’t clean physical education and recess equipment fast enough with hand-held spray bottles. So the district bought some 2-gallon pump sprayers.
For buses, the school sends home health forms for parents to fill out each day so drivers don’t have to check each child. Once the bus is loaded, the driver takes a cellphone picture of the students and sends it to the office so they have a record for virus tracking if needed.
“Little things like that we are learning are making life easier,” Hawley said.
The district wasn’t prepared for how mentally and physically draining wearing a mask all day can be, Hawley said.
“It’s on your mind all the time,” he said.
The high school has added recess periods so students can go outside, take a mask break, and enjoy some socially distanced visiting.
Hawley said students have been great about following the protocols.
“Kids want to be in schools, so they are willing to do some things they wouldn’t normally do,” he said.
- Jake Arnold, OSBA